Can you shed light on historic rail poster?

Alistair Grant (left), chairman of Aboyne Highland Games
Alistair Grant (left), chairman of Aboyne Highland Games

Organisers of a north-east Highland Games are looking to track down the history behind a piece of vintage railway ephemera which they recently purchased at auction.

Aboyne Highland Games was the focus of a British Railways poster created in the 1950s to encourage the public to explore the country by train, but mystery surrounds where a framed copy of this artwork has been for the past half century. Having drawn a blank in their detective efforts, organisers are asking the public for their help to piece together the poster’s history ahead of this year’s Aboyne Highland Games on Saturday, August 3.

The committee of the annual Deeside event purchased the item at a Scottish saleroom late last year after one of its members spotted the lot when visiting the auction’s preview day. Only after receiving the item did the committee discover that the poster, mounted in a simple wooden frame bearing the inscription LNER, had in fact been presented to their predecessors more than 50 years previously.

The evocative image features a piper playing as three Highland Dancers perform on a stage beneath a fluttering banner displaying the Gordon family crest.

On the reverse of the framed poster a notice reads ‘Presented to Aboyne Games committee, 26th February 1966 on withdrawal of passenger train services between Aberdeen and Ballater’.

No record of the poster being presented to the committee exists in Aboyne Highland Games’ minute books or archives. An online search – including of the British Newspaper Archive – and enquiries in the local area have failed to turn up any leads about the presentation of the poster and its whereabouts over the last 53 years.

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said: “It is all a bit mysterious and intriguing. We have found no mention of the framed poster being presented to Aboyne Highland Games and those who were connected to the games at that time have no memory of it either.

“It is possible that someone squirreled it away 50 years ago, but we’d love to know where it has been. There would no doubt have been many copies of this poster in existence, but to actually end up buying the framed version that the games was presented with in 1966 is quite extraordinary.”

The vibrant artwork by the renowned artist Lance Cattermole was one of a series of posters created by British Railways to promote destinations on its network and encourage people to holiday by train.

It is thought that along with being the subject of the promotional poster, Aboyne Highland Games was presented with the item in acknowledgement of its long connection with the Deeside railway. During the first 100 years of Aboyne Highland Games, the rail network was an important means of transportation for the event. Before cars became commonplace, special trains from Aberdeen and Ballater were laid on bring spectators to Aboyne on games day.

Alistair added: “Our archives and old newspaper reports document that the Deeside Line was hugely important to the success of Aboyne Highland Games, with thousands of visitors travelling by rail to attend the games. The poster tells part of our history and it is great that the games has been reunited with it. I’m sure the committee in the 1950s and 1960s felt that it was quite a privilege for a Highland Games in a small Scottish village to have been chosen as the subject for one of these prominent promotional posters.”

The trustees of the village’s Victory Hall have agreed to put the framed poster on permanent display, ensuring that the historic connection Aboyne and its Highland Games have with the railway can be enjoyed by everyone.

Anyone with information about the poster is asked to e-mail secretary@aboynegames.com.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August. The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year. Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy. Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.